Is “enhanced” SSP the answer?

After weeks of campaigning by frontline workers the TUC and Labour Party have now taken up the demand for decent sick pay for all.

The TUC’s Frances O’Grady said: “We need a testing and tracing programme up as soon as possible.

“But it will not be effective if workers are pushed into hardship when they are required to self-isolate.

“Statutory sick pay is just £95 per week – and two million workers aren’t even eligible for that.

“If workers can’t afford to self-isolate, then they will be forced to keep working.

“That will put them, their workmates and their local community at risk, and undermine the entire Test and Trace programme.

“The government must extend statutory sick pay to everyone, no matter what they’re paid, and raise it to the level of the real Living Wage, £260 per week.

“And the self-employed income support scheme must remain in place as a source of financial support for those forced to self-isolate. That’s how to show that we really are all in this together.”

This is a welcome intervention. But is increasing Statutory Sick Pay to £260 a week the answer?

A full time minimum wage worker earns £292 after tax. A full time worker on the real living wage (calculated hy the Living Wage Campaign) earns £307 after tax (£344 in London). So £260 a week still involves a sacrifice for low waged workers and will disincentive selfisolation.

The £260 figure has another unexpected consequence. A part time minimum wage worker working less than 32 hours a week earns less than £260 a week. If this enhanced sick pay came into force it could have the perverse effect of disincentiving full time workers without OSP from isolating whilst at the same time incentivising absenteeism by part time low waged workers.

The answer to this problem is not to demand “enhanced” SSP set at an arbitrary figure, but to demand full sick pay for all based on average earnings. Across Europe it is the norm for the state to guarantee between 50-100% wages to workers who have to take time off sick. The UK is unusual in that its Statutory Sick Pay is a fixed amount and significantly less than what is necessary for survival. During the pandemic this woefully inadequate system of sickness benefit is a major public health risk.

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